Posts Tagged ‘By Sword Stave or Stylus’

By Sword, Stave or Stylus - High ResolutionI don’t get huge numbers of reviews, so I sometimes get over-excited when I receive one, especially one as glowingly positive as this recent review by Writerbee of By Sword, Stave or Stylus. To quote the start of the review, ‘These fantasy genre stories take wordsmithing and storytelling to great heights.’ I really can’t complain about a review like that!

By Sword, Stave or Stylus is available as ebook via Amazon.

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rosesEvery day for a month, as she walked through the palace gardens, Lady Elana looked up at the high balcony where Prince Novak sat, his handsome face as pale and sorrowful as old bones. She had read the books of poetry he wrote before his mother’s death, and so knew that there was joy and beauty in him, such joy and beauty that it had captured her own heart. But she had come to court too late to meet the man with whose words she had fallen in love. Now he sat alone behind locked doors and his father’s guards, slumped in sorrow.

Elana was determined to change that.

It took her weeks to identify the brief moment each day when the guards did not watch the wall below the balcony. She waited another month for the perfect blue rose to emerge in the garden, just as it had in Novak’s poetry. At last her moment came.

She plucked the rose, grasped it between her teeth and scrambled up the ivy. Stone scraped her knuckles red raw, and thorns drew blood from her lips, but at last she reached the top and held out the flower to Prince Novak.

“I found beauty amid brambles.” She recited the first line of her favourite verse, and the smallest of smiles flickered at his mouth.

“What is this?” The King was furious as he stomped out onto the balcony. “I keep my son here to protect him from harlots like you, preying upon his weakness as you scrabble to become queen. I will have none of it!”

“Please.” Elana trembled as she bowed low before the King. “Please, I just want to make him happy. The flower made him smile. Surely that is worth something?”

The King looked at his son, and for a moment his expression softened.

It was only a moment.

“Any courtly lady can make a young man smile,” he growled. “It is what you are trained for. Make me smile, and then I will let you see him again.”

#

Every day for a month, Elena was allowed into the King’s presence and given one chance to make him smile. At first she sang songs and told jokes, but his expression remained stern. Then she tried stories of glory and heroism, which she had been told he loved in his youth, but still no smile. She brought bouquets of flowers, fine artworks, beautiful and exotic birds, but not a hint of happiness touched the King’s lips.

Determined to succeed, Elena learnt new skills. Every month for a year she would dedicate herself to a new entertainment, perfecting some display before bringing it before the King. She became an acrobat, an illusionist, a high wire ballerina. Courtiers were dazzled by the spectacle of her displays, but the King continued to glare.

At last came the day when Elena could do nothing more. Every muscle ached from endless training. All her money was gone, spent on experts and tutors. So many crafts filled her mind, ideas and information cramming up against each other, that she could barely sleep at night from keeping them all in.

She bowed low before the King, her last threadbare gown sweeping the floor.

“I have failed, your majesty,” she said. “I am penniless, and must now leave court. But if my example inspires another, and one day they make Novak happy, then every moment of this has been worthwhile.”

With all the dignity she could muster, she turned to walk away.

“Wait.” The King’s voice was soft.

Elena turned to see a tear rolling from the corner of his eye.

“It amazes me,” he said. “That you could care for my son so much that after all this you are happy just knowing that he is too.”

He waved to one of his guards.

“Take her to Prince Novak.” At last a smile appeared on the King’s face.

#

Every day for a month, Elena visited Prince Novak on his balcony. They read stories, admired the garden, and wrote poetry together. Slowly but surely, the Prince’s smile returned. It became fixed forever when, the very next year, they were wed.

* * *

After enjoying my fantasy story ‘The Wizard’s Tower’, Joanna challenged me to write a story in which a female suitor must prove her worthiness for a sheltered man, the reversal of the usual roles. This is the result. I hope you enjoy it, and if you’d like to receive a story each week directly to your inbox then please sign up for my mailing list.

As an added bonus, fellow writer Steve Cook has recorded an audio version of one of my previous stories, steampunk adventure ‘A Flash of Power’. He’s done a great job, full of sound effects and enthusiasm, and you can listen to that here.

By Sword, Stave or Stylus - High ResolutionAs has become the norm, for this Tuesday’s post I’ve had a go at the latest Writing Excuses exercise, to sharpen my writing skills and hopefully inspire others to give these exercises a go. This week’s exercise was provided by a guest on the show, Wesley Chu:

take something that you’ve already written, swap the personalities of your protagonist and antagonist, and re-write a scene from the story.

I’m under some time pressure this week, so I’m not going to write a full scene, just think about how this role reversal would work in one of my stories – ‘Shadows, Stones and Hungry Ghosts’, from my collection By Sword Stave or Stylus.

The Original Situation

‘Shadows, Stones and Hungry Ghosts’ stars First Swift Footstep, a criminal in a fantasy setting influenced by China and Japan. The story depicts his interrogation by a nameless authority figure, which leaves First Swift Footstep haunted by what may be a spirit or may be a figment of his imagination.

In this original set-up, First Swift Footstep is a chancer and an opportunist. He’s fidgety and somewhat nervous, plagued by his own doubts. He’s willing to cross legal and ethical boundaries where it’s in his best interests.

The interrogator is a figure of calm and stillness. Educated, connected and rooted in the traditions of their country, he understands how to use small gestures to his advantage. It’s his infinite patience, as much as First Swift Footstep’s impatience, that becomes the thread of their confrontation.

Reverse the Polarity!

So what happens when I switch these two around?

Now we have a protagonist and prisoner who is calm and patient, able to resist the techniques used on him by an interrogator desperate for results. Instead of seeing the prisoner slowly worn down, we would see his resisting a range of different approaches to interrogation, up to and including torture – after all, our new interrogator is happy to cross that line. Ultimately, it’s still a story about how much one man can endure, but it’s about external pressures, not internal ones, and the through line is one of resistance to a dark change, not growing insight.

Reflecting on the Exercise

I think that, if I’d looked at another of my stories, this exercise might have created something more interesting. As it is, the reversal makes a story that’s more mundane and less interesting. Though I am fascinated by the character of the new, impatient interrogator, and think he could have a lot of use in a future story, by making the calm, patient, almost flawless man the centre of the story, I end up with a less interesting protagonist.

If you’d like to read the original story, By Sword, Stave or Stylus is free on Amazon today. And if you’ve got any thoughts on the exercise, or have tried it yourself, please share your thoughts in the comments – I’m always interested in what other people make of these exercises.

By Sword, Stave or Stylus - High ResolutionFor Ubu, the gladiator life is short and brutal, but in the shadow of the arena there is a chance for something more.

I know that a lot of people like to listen to their books rather than read. And as it happens the first story in By Sword, Stave or Stylus is already available to listen to. When Wily Writers originally published ‘Live by the Sword’ they included an audio version. So if you’d like a chance to listen to the first short story in my new collection, or just to read a bit of the collection before you buy, then you can check it out over on Wily Writers.

By Sword, Stave or Stylus is still only 99c for the next week, and the Wily Writers recording is free, so why not give them a go?

 

And while I’m pointing you towards other reading, I’ve had a couple of guest posts this week on other blogs. Over at the Steampunk Journal I’ve written about moving buildings in steampunk stories, while at Alt Hist I’ve written some more about the challenges of world building for alternate history. If you have time please check them out.

Magic and art are a natural match in our minds. Art taps into the parts of ourselves we understand least – our emotions, our instincts, our subconscious. And magic, from card tricks at a kids’ birthday party to vast elemental spells in an epic fantasy, is all about the unexplained.

Casting of magic in stories often involves some form of art. It can be singing and chanting to cast a spell, dancing around a campfire to communicate with the spirits, drawing symbols or stitching together creepy voodoo dolls – if there’s an artform out there then there’s a form of magic to go with it.

Joss Whedon created one of my favourite examples, the Buffy The Vampire Slayer episode ‘Once More, With Feeling’. For a single episode song and dance are both enforced by and and unleashed by the power of magic, as the cast show off their variable music talents. It’s an in character excuse for an out of character novelty, turning a popular fantasy show into a musical for one episode, and it’s great fun.

Sailing to SarantiumGuy Gavriel Kay often explores art and power, and though magic often plays a low key part in his works, it still fuses with art in Sailing to Sarantium. Sculptures of birds are brought to life, art capturing the human spirit in a way that becomes unsettling as the truth behind it is revealed.

By Sword, Stave or Stylus - High ResolutionCombining art and magic is something I’ve tried to do myself in some of the stories in By Sword, Stave or Stylus. The emotional core of ‘Live by the Sword’ is about how the gladiator characters use art as an escape from the terrible brutality of their lives, and about magic making this literal. ‘The Essence of a Man’ fuses oil painting with alchemy, combining two arts that created high excitement during the European Renaissance. ‘The Magpie Dance’ is about dance as magic, while ‘One Minute of Beauty’ is about a very conscious attempt to squeeze the art and magic from life, the artist in his and her modern form.

I love to see magic and art combined in stories, one becoming an outlet for the other. So what other great examples are there? What other books, shows or films have combined magic and art in interesting ways? What have I missed?

A knight so stupid he might just win.

A prisoner haunted by ghosts, or are they shadows?

A demon investigating an angel’s death.

Action, art and mystery all feature in my fantasy short story collection, By Sword, Stave or Stylus, out today as an ebook today via Amazon and Smashwords.

By Sword, Stave or Stylus - High Resolution

The stories in this collection:

  • Live By the Sword – art and magic combine in a fantasy version of the Roman arena.
  • Leprosaria – a knight and his chronicler uncover strange goings on in a leper hospital.
  • Long Nights in Languedoc – something monstrous pursues an English army through medieval France.
  • The Essence of a Man – the magical power of art is tested under siege.
  • Shadows, Stones and Hungry Ghosts – a prisoner faces a haunting interrogation.
  • The Wizard’s Stairs – a young man, an angry wizard and a test of love.
  • Striking Black Silence – a ninja becomes the shadows on a deadly mission.
  • The Edge of the World – a lowly gutter dweller carries a vital message across a strange rooftop world.
  • The Hunter in the Stacks – a scholar takes up his spear and goes hunting knowledge.
  • The Suspicions of Shadowvalt – a demonic whodunnit.
  • The Faces of the Fallen – Detective Shadowvalt returns to investigate a murder in Hell.
  • The Magpie Dance – a group of morris dancers are more than they seem.
  • One Minute of Beauty – art, revolution, absinthe and a visionary moment.

It’s an eclectic selection of stories, and one I’m proud of. So if you’re looking for some reading why not go pick up a copy from Amazon or Smashwords. It’s only 99c for the first two weeks of release, after which I’ll be putting up the price to a princely $2.99.

And later in the week, once I’ve stopped reeling from the excitement/nerves of hitting the magic ‘publish’ button, I’ll discuss some of the stories in more detail.

A gladiator painting with manticore blood.

A demon detective policing Hell.

A ninja who can turn into shadow.

All this and more are coming soon in my latest collection, By Sword, Stave or Stylus

By Sword, Stave or Stylus - High Resolution

Yes, that’s right, my state of high excitement can mean only one thing – I have another book cover. On 13 October I’ll be releasing my next collection of short stories, this time a fantasy anthology titled By Sword, Stave or Stylus.

The stories in this collection:

  • Live By the Sword – art and magic combine in a fantasy version of the Roman arena.
  • Leprosaria – a knight and his chronicler uncover strange goings on in a leper hospital.
  • Long Nights in Languedoc – something monstrous pursues an English army through medieval France.
  • The Essence of a Man – the magical power of art is tested under siege.
  • Shadows, Stones and Hungry Ghosts – a prisoner faces a haunting interrogation.
  • The Wizard’s Stairs – a young man, an angry wizard and a test of love.
  • Striking Black Silence – a ninja becomes the shadows on a deadly mission.
  • The Edge of the World – a lowly gutter dweller carries a vital message across a strange rooftop world.
  • The Hunter in the Stacks – a scholar takes up his spear and goes hunting knowledge.
  • The Suspicions of Shadowvalt – a demonic whodunnit.
  • The Faces of the Fallen – Detective Shadowvalt returns to investigate a murder in Hell.
  • The Magpie Dance – a group of morris dancers are more than they seem.
  • One Minute of Beauty – art, revolution, absinthe and a visionary moment.

As always, preparing to hit the publish button fills me with a mixture of excitement and tension. But I’ll battle down the nervous twitches and post more details as I get closer to release.

Big thanks to John Moley for the title – John, a copy of the e-book will be heading your way as soon as it’s ready.

Edit:

By Sword, Stave or Stylus is now available for pre-order on both Amazon and Smashwords.